the church is the center in Christ

And [God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:22-23

So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone; in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:19-22

there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling….

speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:4, 15-16

Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.*

Ephesians 5:22-32

The church has fallen on hard times in the western and northern hemispheres. For many reasons. People have said and thought that while they like Christ, they don’t like the church. “Nones” is a phenomenon at least in the United States in which often devout believers in Christ have left church forever. And I know such who have been looking but not finding, although they do have a church in mind. Since I have been a Christian, I’ve always been a part of one church or another. Since leaving a Mennonite expression of the faith not long after my boyhood church closed down, I’ve been a part of too many churches. Some of that stands to reason, but I admire those who have been part of the same church tradition all their lives, or at least I think doing that is admirable. All of this is understandable given the issues and explanations.

All that said, no matter how hard it may be, we will do best I think, if we commit ourselves to a local fellowship of believers, a local church. That is an expression of who we are in Christ, not just individuals, but the one universal body of Christ of which we’re a part by the Spirit. No easy formula here. In the wave of Christian nationalism, not a few churches have lost their way. But in the many denominations present, surely one can find a church in which at least they can be in community with others in the faith and participate in liturgy, hear the word and partake of the sacraments. At the very least one might be able to settle into an Episcopalian church which requires nothing for basic participation. I have returned back to the tradition in which I was raised, but with respect for the Great Tradition, for Anabaptist roots, and what has followed.

But there’s no escape from this. In Christ the church is central. And if we’re in Christ, we’re part of the church, and we will do well to find our way into an expression of that.

*Note that the words in the Ephesians passage are within a patriarchal society, and so it’s written accordingly, not unlike the slave/master section soon after.

Scripture readings on Sundays

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Acts 8:26-40

I’ve been sharing Scripture readings on Sundays, going through the book of 2 Corinthians according to the headings of the NIV Bible from which I quote. Before that for years I had shared the prayer for Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer. I still highly value that book and the tradition that goes with it. I love church tradition, and probably prefer something of it at least in every church service or gathering. Along with the Lord’s Table. But the Lord led us away from the Anglican church plant to find a church for our grandchildren, which now the family attends. And my wife and I are happy to be a part of it.

I have always been a Bible person, raised evangelical in the Mennonite tradition. And I work for an evangelical ministry, Our Daily Bread Ministries. So Scripture is in my bones. I recently switched to sharing Scripture on Sundays. The Book of Common Prayer includes Scripture readings, but within the wisdom of that tradition drawing as well from the Great Tradition which has been at it for centuries. I have a profound respect for all of that. For a person to have Scripture, as we see in the above passage is indeed good, a good start. But by itself it’s not enough. With Scripture is the Spirit and the church, those sent to proclaim as well as witness to the good news of Christ.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Revelation 22:16-17

So tomorrow I plan to continue with Scripture readings beginning the gospel according to Mark. Hopefully anyone not understanding will benefit with posts during the week, and from other sources. I’m just one voice, a witness. We need to look to Scripture and the Spirit along with the church for God’s help in understanding, so that by faith we may enter into the salvation and kingdom of God in and through Jesus.

in prayer for the Roman Catholic Church

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

In a recent post, I was thinking of the early music of the Protestant Reformation, and celebrating the renewal of spiritual life God seemed to clearly give at that time. In no way was I desirous of putting down other Christian traditions, such as the Roman Catholic Church, or the Eastern Orthodox Church, or any other Christian tradition. All are rooted in a tradition which believes the church was built in a sense on the apostles, beginning with Peter, and on the apostolic teaching of the gospel. In no way do I want to exalt one tradition over another.

I was raised in an evangelical Anabaptist church. Now I’m evangelical with some Anabaptist remaining, but above all, wanting to find the common ground that is ours together as the entire church in Christ and the gospel. I have to admit that for me, while I think I mostly understand it, it seems a direct affront to Christ’s desire that we in Christ would be one before the world, that so many churches have closed communion. That is not true of just one tradition, but a number, even within the Protestant tradition. But by the Spirit through the gospel we are one in Christ anyhow, regardless our practices. Tradition by the Spirit and the word has essentially gotten the gospel right. Christ is the gospel, the good news of God. Christ in his person, life, ministry, and work of salvation through his death and resurrection, followed by his ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, with the promise of his return.

This is an especially difficult time for the Roman Catholic Church, and for our sisters and brothers in Christ in that great tradition. The rest of us need to be holding them up in prayer: the pope, the leadership in that church, the priests and nuns and laypeople, all who serve Christ there. Christ is faithful, and the church will stand because Christ will cause it to stand. Repentance, reformation and renewal, that is a need for us all. We need to be open to understand where we are wrong now, confess that, and make the necessary changes to be confirmed over time. The evangelical church is not without its faults, sins and scandals.

So we stand with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. In prayer for them, and for all of the church, as we seek to follow our Lord and be faithful witnesses of the good news in him.

making sense of nonsense

As humans, we are rational beings. We want to understand as much as we can, and try to make some sense of things. Necessarily, we factor in reason, as well as our experience, and at best, together. And if we’re wise, we surely will consider how generations past have grappled with life: their thoughts and practices, in a word, their tradition.

In some sense this is a never ending process, open to refinement, or just to the application necessary to the times in which we live. In another sense, for people of faith, there are certain matters that are fixed. The basis for that is both scripture and tradition. The church of the Great Tradition: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the like, will put both on an equal par, actually on the basis of scripture. Other churches such as those within Protestantism, will see scripture as the authority, but if they’re wise, I think, will understand that scripture does give some serious weight to tradition, particularly how the church has interpreted the point of scripture, the gospel, over the centuries. So that even within differences of understanding that, essentially the heart of the gospel is the same, found in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, and all that’s related to that.

What can become a crisis of faith is experience along with thoughts which seem to give the lie to God. And specifically the great, good God of the Bible. But if we read all of the Bible, we’ll find that it mirrors life: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. We are often left with no answer to our question, “Why?” both in terms of life, and sometimes within the pages of scripture itself. Although there are explanations, some of them tied to the idea that the secret things belong to God, left to God’s understanding, while the things revealed belong to God’s people, to hold on to for life, what is called truth (Deuteronomy). So that in the end we have to trust God.

The answer for us in the here and now is simply to learn to live in the never ending tension of life, both what makes sense, and what from our perspective is sheer nonsense, and maybe the case from God’s perspective, as well. Though God is at work to bring good out of it all, even what forever will be evil.

In the main point of scripture, the gospel, God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good at the cross, in the death of Christ. We hold on to that, both in terms of understanding God and life. There is something which ultimately will override all the nonsense of this world. And sense will take care of it all in the end in God’s good judgment and justice to come, and the salvation which follows.

In the meantime, I continue to hold to this, the idea that what makes sense will prevail, only through faith. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus as given to us in the gospel accounts, being a major factor for acceptance of the faith. But also a faith which amounts to a trust in God, even when it seems that the bottom has fallen out in our experience, or maybe even thought, so that there’s nothing left to stand on.

God is underneath, and around all of that. And the truth of the gospel, the good news in Jesus is the hope and even assurance we have that all will be well in the end.

throwing in (casting) my lot with the evangelicals, but hopefully “simply Christian”

If you’ve known me through the years, you’ll know that I’ve flirted with the Great Tradition, at one time years back considering considering (yes, repeated) becoming a Roman Catholic. And liking much of what I witnessed and was aware of from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. I still hold the Great Tradition in esteem, but to make a long story short, it seems evident on the face of it, that the true church is bigger, and that the tradition is not as infallible as it might seem to some. But I won’t dig further there.

I could come up with all sorts of reasons, I suppose, why in the end I remain something of an evangelical (maybe of an Anabaptist, liturgical mix), while not making the mistake of cutting myself off from the Great Tradition, as if they aren’t part of the true church as well. They are, at least all who are born of the Spirit, which is the case since the church is the Spirit-indwelled Body of Christ on earth, surely on both a local and global, universal level.

The evangelicals are made to be a regular punching bag nowadays, from so-called “progressive” Christians to nearly everyone else. And it’s not like we’re without our faults. What tradition doesn’t have issues? Strengths and weaknesses? Of course some will refuse to acknowledge any good in a given tradition, nothing new if we consider social interent sites like Facebook, where never is heard a discouraging or encouraging word, depending.

Let’s just say that I cast my lot in with the church and the gospel, with scripture being the backbone of all of that, the church deriving its authority from both. Of course the Lord himself, to whom all authority has been given, the one from and through whom we live and work.

Can the evangelicals change in some helpful ways before the Lord returns? Of course only God knows what that should be, but surely yes. Life goes on with much change for better or for worse, but God’s word and the truth of the gospel remains the same. Our understanding hopefully will grow within those necessary bounds. And the church by the Spirit most definitely has an important say in that.

Hopefully, “simply Christian” with an emphasis on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, is where I stand, but only with others. Yes, each one of us, but also necessarily, all of us together. Before the world, in and through Jesus.

reading and hearing the Bible together

Probably more than anything else, I’m a Bible person. Two things I like to carry and likely am carrying are my little New Testament/Psalms & Proverbs and coffee. It is good for us to read the Bible, or listen to it, in fact I highly recommend it. That’s in large part within our historical context the result of the Protestant Reformation. And within and around that are both good and not so good influences. A good: examining the translated original texts for ourselves. A not (necessarily) so good: the questioning and often rejection of authority, especially religious authority. But I live in a part of what has come out of that mix. And again, there is great good there, along with that which is not so good.

In churches of the Great Tradition, so much more scripture is read Sunday after Sunday through the lexical readings, so that essentially the entire Bible is read through over the course of I think four years. That is a great benefit, and such churches are blessed. Where we have been attending, taking our grandchildren, the Bible is wonderfully taught in a 45-55 minute message, preceeded by some (surprisingly enough to me) good worship in song, my earplugs intact with the guitars, keyboards and drums (though most Sundays I really could get by without them). But we don’t hear the Book read through except for passages related to the teaching. I would be surprised if most Christians, aside from services, and teaching times, read much scripture at all for themselves.

Within Judaism there’s a practice of reading scripture together, and then discussing and often debating its meaning. I think we can take home something important from that, because we will ultimately better understand the message of scripture together, not apart by ourselves. The Spirit gives the entire church the understanding of scripture and the gospel, and that mediation is more rich and clear through the church, rather than through individuals here and there. Not to diminish the value of scholars who themselves gather from the entire church in their work of helping us understand the text, along with pastors and priests who do the same.

Yes, read the Bible for yourself, and keep reading it. But also find a context where you are reading it with others, and gathering insights from them. And read from the best pastors and teachers, and from scholars as well.

drinking deeply from the faith

The first title that came to mind when I was thinking of something of this post in general was “drinking deeply from the Christian tradition.” I like that title, and believe in what I would mean for it to convey. Usually I don’t concern myself much over titles of posts, but the title of this post is probably more directly related to its content than in many of my posts. Drinking deeply from the Christian tradition is important and we’re at a great loss when we don’t consider the history of the church from the very early church to the present day. There’s much wisdom for us to receive from the church mothers and fathers. And how the Spirit led the church through the centuries is something that we not only have to take into serious consideration, but in terms of the gospel and of the faith certainly has straightforward application for us, especially as expressed in the creeds, such as the Nicene Creed.

What I’m getting at in this post is just how we’re to live in the reality of the world, the flesh, and the devil, which are anything but faith friendly. Ironically this can be the very factor which helps us to find and learn to drink deeply from the faith that is ours in Jesus.

When I feel overwhelmed, or just burdened down about this or that, I by and by come to realize my own great need of pressing hard into the grace that is ours in Jesus, and seeking to live all the more through that, in the word and through the gospel. In a way, in the midst of it all, sometimes the pummeling that occurs in life, I can learn to relax by faith, and say to myself that through God’s grace in Jesus, all will be alright. That I may need to work through this or that, but to take one thing at a time, and above all seek to trust in God and God’s word through it all.

It is completely gift, the scriptural meaning of grace, in and through Jesus. But we have to make every effort to enter into this rest of faith, to live in God’s grace. This may mean almost feeling our way along at times in a kind of semi-darkness in which we have just enough light to keep us going. Maybe in seemingly complete darkness, crying out to God to be our light, and to give us light through his word.

We in Jesus need to learn to drink deeply from the faith, and to keep coming for more and more. Because that is nothing less than our life, and through our drinking others can come to receive that life as well, in and through Jesus.

the need for both scripture and creed

Although I am thankful to say that I can cite much good from which we can learn, in spades in the ministry where I work with no bad examples there, there is pop theology you can find in many places elsewhere which is not sufficiently grounded in scripture or the great creeds of the church.

We need both scripture and creed in either order depending on what one means, both of paramount and critical importance for the church in its call to contend for the faith once for all entrusted to God’s people.

The “Ecumenical and Historic Christian Creeds” include probably the two most common: the Apostles and the Nicene Creed. The Anglican denomination of which we are a part is working on a new Book of Common Prayer which will be more in keeping with the 1662 edition and will incorporate “we believe” in place of “I believe” which overall I find more helpful (but that’s another subject). I’m looking forward to the release of that book. I highly value the creeds and liturgy, because these are the works of the church. No scripture is of private interpretation, we must be committed to the revelation the Spirit has given to the church both in terms of scripture’s initial reception which is actually given through the church one can say, in the first place, and its interpretation, hammered out in the midst of controversy over especially the early centuries of the church.

While first and foremost I would want to be identified as a follower of Jesus along with being a Christian in the orthodox sense, I am also an evangelical, committed to the gospel for life and witness, and committed to scripture as having primacy for our understanding. The revelation given to the church is a living witness, one the church continues to receive by the Spirit, and each of us who are in the church are a part of that reception process. My sense of this in terms of the Great Tradition would be more Roman Catholic than Eastern Orthodox in that I believe that the church can continue to grow in its understanding of the truth in the breadth of scripture. At the same time I think the gift from the Eastern Orthodox Church is valuable too in its good emphasis on scripture. Where I depart from both is what I suppose makes me an evangelical in the Protestant sense in that I don’t believe tradition is infallible in its totality, or necessarily even meant to be in terms of how it’s practiced. But everything pertaining to the gospel is in at least some sense infallible, since the gospel is both the heart and point of the story, of scripture itself.

I’m excited about the Institute for Bible Reading and a book written by one of its founders, Glenn R. Paauw, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well. Some would say that we simply need to keep tethered to the Church and its teachings. I think it’s a matter of and/both, not either/or. The church itself needs to stay grounded in scriptures in accordance with “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude :3).

Trying to adhere to this will go a long way toward helping us avoid erroneous teaching such as the health and wealth gospel and pop theologies we sometimes see coming up like little weeds everywhere. What we want is the wheat, not the chaff. Vital for our own faith and witness in this world.

keeping the gospel front and center (in our experience in an Anglican church plant)

Deb and I are involved in an Anglican church plant where we live, in the heart of the city of Grand Rapids. It has been an interesting experience, although I hope the experience continues on and grows exponentially over time in seeing a church established and disciples or true followers of Jesus made. The Anglican Church has ties, one might say even roots into both Protestantism and Catholicism. So that depending on the church, it can more of less take on the flavor of either. What is distinctive in Anglicanism from evangelicalism, it seems to me, is that through liturgy (the service is liturgical) and the Lord’s Table (or the Eucharist, Holy Communion) the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus is always front and center, or at least not far removed from the service. The priest/pastor preaching the word is important, perhaps equally important along with the rest. But again the liturgy rooted in the Book of Common Prayer and in or under the influence of the Great Tradition along with “Holy Eucharist” keeps the redemptive work of King Jesus front and center.

Our last evangelical church actually did that probably more than any other church I’ve been a part of. And my experience in evangelical churches has been good. The word has been faithfully preached, the churches being true to the gospel. The difference in where we are now is that this is at the heart of each service, so that it is hopefully the heart beat. We are both confronted with the truth and claims of the gospel and we are also blessed with its promises. All as part of the service. So that the preaching or teaching of the word is no longer front and center, but rather part of the whole, having its place, indeed an important place in the service. While the service is vitally important, of equal importance is the common life that is to follow. We are the people of God not just as individuals, but together as a whole. We are family in and through our Brother Jesus. And in Jesus we are on mission, each of us having our part in this world as witnesses of Jesus, as those who live with the goal of keeping the gospel front and center in all of life.

helping a church plant

Deb and I recently joined a church plant in Grand Rapids, Prince of Peace Anglican Church. Michael Cupp is the priest/pastor and there is a committed nucleus. Our hope and prayer is that this church will become well established. Deb and I have been favorable to the Anglican tradition for some time now. When Scot McKnight joined an Anglican church in the same denomination (Anglican Church in North America), I took special note. Years ago I read (as I recall) his two NIV Application commentaries (Galatians and 1 Peter) and later his book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others became for me a most formative book. Add to that other books by him and connecting with him through his blog, Jesus Creed along with his Anabaptist faith and I found a biblical, theological scholar with whom I could track nearly completely.

It was more than difficult to leave our former church, Redeemer Covenant, a most excellent church in a number of ways. This was not so much the case of leaving a church, but of joining the work of another church. More precisely it was and is a matter of thinking that the Lord is calling us to help in this work. Without that sense of calling, such a change could hardly have taken place. Concerning this, Proverbs 3:5-6 seems to be embedded in my thinking: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” And so begins a new adventure.